Taste Testing Home Canned Peaches

It’s cold today in the Shenandoah Valley. It’s supposed to get up to 50, but my thermometer won’t budge past 40, so my plans of putting in the garlic and shallots is postponed till tomorrow.

I’m full of plans this time of year, and one of those involves maximizing my canning for next year. I’m redoing the root cellar (yes, again) in preparation for an even more productive season of “putting up,” I’m updating my Mother Earth News Garden Planner with my plans for 2012 (starting with that garlic), and I’m beginning to analyze my seed choices for the best performance in this area.

While looking around the root cellar and thinking of how to reorganize it, I decided to have some home canned peaches with lunch. If you’ve never had homed canned peaches, I think you’re missing out on a sweet way to end a meal. They don’t really taste like “summer in a jar” as I romanticize them to taste, but they are delicious and the work involved in canning them is really appreciated when fresh peaches are long gone, as they are here in Virginia.

Canned Peach Labels

Canned Peach Labels

In August of 2010 I canned a few dozen pints of peaches, mostly Loring. They were all ripe, easy to peal, and tasted delicious fresh. They also came from the same place, Mowery Orchard, in Woodstock, Virginia. (No, not THE Woodstock; the OTHER Woodstock.) Our peach trees are overgrown and underpruned, so we have yet to get a harvest, though I’m determined 2012 is the year for us.

My first batch, canned August 7, were processed using Ball Blue Book’s hot-pack method. My second batch, canned August 14, were processed using the raw or cold-pack method. In general, the former involves cooking peaches in sugar syrup and then pouring the liquid over the peaches to can. The latter involves putting the peaches in hot jars and then adding the hot syrup.

As I waffled over which jar to open today, I decided to grab one of each and see if I could tell a difference between the two canning methods. A more objective study would have included additional test subjects, but Ranger Tim is on duty and he wouldn’t eat them anyway, so I’m going to rely on my own taste buds. (Sometimes I’m glad I married a man who doesn’t love fruit — it’s more for me!!)

Hot and Cold Packed Canned Peaches

Hot and Cold Packed Canned Peaches

Once thing that is noticeable even in the dim light of the root cellar, but which is not so clear in the picture to the right, is that the cold packed peaches have held their color better. They are still bright peachy-orange fleshed. The hot-packed peaches have a duller, darker color. The syrup (both of which were a medium syrup) is also clearer in the cold-packed peaches. (If you click on the picture to the right, you can enlarge it. Just click your back button to return to this page.)

I was able to wedge more halves into the hot-packed jar, which is a big plus when one is low on jars, and I recall that it was easier to squeeze the peaches through the small-mouthed (or regular mouthed) openings of the jars. Because they were a little soft from cooking, they compressed to fit through the opening. The firmer raw peaches had required some finagling to get them in without shredding their tender flesh.

When it comes to slicing into the peaches, the hot-packed have a slightly softer feel. The peach half, which has a convex bottom where the pit once resided, flattens a bit as I cut through with a spoon. Why a spoon? Well, I grew up eating canned peaches as a light dessert or even side dish at meals, and they were eaten with a spoon. A dessert shouldn’t need multiple utensils!

Testing Peach Firmness

Testing Peach Firmness

The cold packed peaches are firmer, but not a great deal so. They do not flatten when sliced, but the spoon glides through with about the same ease as the hot-packed. Eating them doesn’t yield much difference in texture. Both types are pretty soft.

In terms of taste, well, neither tastes as good as a fresh peeled peach. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise, but they are both delicious, and they taste better than the mass produced versions that are canned in tin cans. Those always have a slight metallic taste to the syrup that I don’t like.

So which is better? I lean definitely to the raw or cold packed. They make a better gift because they are prettier in the jar. I think they might also stand up to cooking better, but I’m planning to can some apples later, and I’m not really in the mood to bake a cobbler. I’ll reserve the rest of the hot packed peaches for smoothies and for my own fresh eating. I’ll still enjoy them!

Raw pack is also much easier than hot pack processing. Now that I know the raw-packed have a slight edge over the hot-packed after a year on the shelf, I’ll stick with raw pack next summer and save myself some time, labor, and propane.

How do you can your peaches and why?

*** This site is comprised solely of the opinions of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She works to promote gardening and tourism in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.***

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